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High Octane - Electronic Arts

by Van H. Nguyen (vanhn@ocf.berkeley.edu)


Lowdown:
    I picked up this Hi-Octane last week, and after a week of playing, I have to say I like this game. I would definitely recommend this as a rental, but it has a couple flaws that will keep a lot of people from liking it. Basically, if you thought the graphical flaws in Daytona ruined the gameplay, then stay away from Hi-Octane. If you can tolerate slowdown and a relatively low framerate, then you'll have fun with Hi-Octane.

For those of you that haven't seen it, Hi-Octane is a futuristic combat racing game. There are nine tracks and 6 hovercars available so far, although I kind of doubt there are any hidden ones. Each car is armed with a minigun and missiles, as well as a booster. Each of these can be upgraded up to three times by picking up power-ups on the track. Fuel, ammo, and shield levels must be maintained by picking up power-ups or stopping in the pit. There is a different pit for each one. You don't actually need to stop, only be in the pit. For some tracks, this allows you to refuel completely while still travelling at top speed, while other tracks will require you to stop completely. This keeps the game moving pretty quickly, so you really don't need to stop much unless you don't pay attention to your fuel, you're triggerhappy, or you get hit by a few missiles.

The description above might sound a lot like Cyber Speedway to some of you, and so you might assume Hi-Octane sucks. However, there are a few differences that make HO a much better game. First of all, the tracks are much wider, so it is easier to maneuver. Secondly, the weapons automatically target, so it is easier to hit enemies. This makes for a game that lets you concentrate on racing around the track while simultaneously shooting your enemies. Most of the time you'll either be shooting at someone, or someone will be shooting at you. The combat plays a much larger role in HO then it does in CS or WO. Unlike in the latter two games, getting hit in HO can result in getting "killed" instead of just slowing you down. Your car is stopped, and you explode in a shower of power-ups (your ammo, fuel, and shield appears in the form of power-ups, as well as weapon upgrades). You lose one level of upgrade from each of your weapons. You don't actually die though; You then have to wait until one of the carrier cars comes and repairs you, which can be anywhere from 3 seconds to 40 seconds, depending on where on the track you get killed. So killing opponents is a good way to stop them, and often times just damaging them enough to make them stop at the pits is a good way to pass them too. If you're low on shields or fuel, but have ammo to spare, blasting a car and picking up the power-ups they leave behind is a good way to refuel without slowing down. Overall, this makes for a fast- paced game where you must alternate between just racing, just shooting, or simultaneously racing and shooting, with the last choice being the most common.

Some tracks have alternate routes and hidden areas. Sometimes they will have power-ups, sometimes they'll be faster, or sometimes they're just alternate routes. I've also discovered (on accident) that blasting the walls in certain areas will reveal new routes or hidden power-ups. On some tracks, the track itself will move. Ramps or walls can rise out of the ground, unexpectedly stopping you in your tracks or giving you some good air time. Some tracks also have jumps; Make the jump and you're okay, miss it and you have to repeat part of the track and try again.

The 6 cars are rated by speed, armor, firepower, and weight. The first three are self-explanatory, and I really don't know what weight is for. I assume it has something to do with handling or jumps. The cars themselves require different strategies when playing, although the three fast/light cars are pretty much all the same.

The slowdown in Hi-Octane can get really nasty, especially with 7 opponents on-screen. When this happens, it actually effects the gameplay, since the controls get a little sluggish. Most races start off with slowdown since all of the cars are in one spot; Once the race gets going and the cars spread apart, the slowdown pretty much disappears. On some tracks, you won't notice any slowdown at all, while on others, you'll notice it a lot. When racing the single races, you can reduce the number of opponents to get rid of the slowdown. However, in championship mode where you race a full circuit, you can't reduce the number of opponents.

If you've seen the PC version of HO, the Saturn version is very comparable to the hi-res mode on the PC, although I'm pretty sure the Saturn version isn't 640x480. While not as slick as Wipeout, HO still looks pretty good in my book. Like on the PC, pop-up is concealed by a fog effect, so there really isn't any pop-up at all. Objects _will_ appear out of nowhere, but to me it actually looks like they are appearing out of a fog, so it doesn't really look like pop-up. People who are bothered by pop-up probably won't like this effect though.

The cars themselves are flat-shaded with no texture mapping. This makes some of them look a bit plain, although once you get used to it it isn't a big deal. The upside is that you can choose the color of your car.

Like a said before, this game has a lot of slowdown. This is really the one big flaw of the game.

I would say that the graphics are what would turn people off from this game; The slowdown will definitely bother some people, and the fog effect will bother others. If you can bear these two flaws, the game is fine.

The game has techno music. Like a lot of techno music, all the tracks sound very similar. There are only 3 tracks too, so you'll soon know them all. Despite all that, the music is pretty good, and has a strong beat that matches the pace of the game. Overall, the music matches the game very well.

The sound effects are good, and also match the game well. You'll mostly be hearing gunfire and explosions, with the occasional beep to warn you of low fuel/ammo/shields or an incoming missile. The only bad thing I can think of about the sound is that it lacks variety; It would have been nice to have digitized voices instead of generic beeps. Combined with the music, the sound in Hi-Octane is very good overall.

Other stuff:

  • After each race you get a stat screen listing your best time, number of kills, number of deaths, etc. You also get a rating, between 1 and 20. Getting more kills, better times, and less deaths increases your rating.
  • Performing stunts gives you a quick "Yahoo" from the driver, and presumably increases your rating. The only stunts I've been able to do are 180 and 360 degree aerial spins, but I can't really imagine what other stunts you could do.
  • Beating the best time on the track also gets a "Yahoo" from the driver, and temporarily gives you a "super car." Your shields, fuel, and ammo are maxed, your weapons get maximum upgrades, and your speed is maxed. This lasts for maybe 30 seconds, whereafter you lose the extra weapons upgrades, although you keep the fuel, ammo, and shields.
  • Clone mode racing is similar to ghost mode in Sega Rally. The difference is that if you happen to beat the best time during your race, the ghost car will magically appear in the air in front of you, fall to the track, and take off.
  • You need a RAM cart to backup anything and everything in this game. You can't even save your player names or the language (you can choose between english, french, german, and spanish).

While the slowdown can get nasty at times, it doesn't bother me too much. Once you get by that, you've got a very solid, although not spectacular, game. Throw in 9 tracks, 6 cars, and good computer AI and you have a game that has great replay value. From what I've tried so far, the 2 player mode is pretty much crap though. I'd recommend that everyone at least rent it, and you should definitely rent it before you buy it.

Some complaints:
Like I said, the slowdown is the big problem of this game. I really think that the slowdown could have been alleviated by reducing the detail of the backgrounds. Sometimes you'll crash into the side of the track and you'll notice that the background is made up of a lot of polygons. I really don't think all that detail is necessary; After all, slap on a good texture map and most people probably couldn't tell the difference. This isn't limited to Hi-Octane either, since Ghen War and Robotica had the same problems (although in those games instead of reducing the framerate they reduced the playing area). I get the impression a lot of companies, including Sega, are trying to produce technically impressive games rather than fun ones (although I guess with the "big 3" games Sega has succeeded in producing games that are fun and also technically impressive).

Graphics: 6.75

  • - The slowdown can be annoying at times.
Sound: 7.5
  • + Nice techno music.
  • +/- The sound effects fit the game well, but they aren't anything special.
Gameplay: 7.5
  • +/- Aside from the slowdown its great.
Overall: 7.5




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